Many couples are choosing to be united in African-American traditions

A CELEBRATION OF CULTURE

September 26, 1993|By Marilyn McCraven

A photo caption in Sunday's Sun Magazine incorrectl identified the man escorting Adrienne Perkins down the aisle at her wedding. His name is John Scott. Mrs. Perkins is married to Willard Perkins Jr.

The Sun regrets the errors.

The 150 or so people grow quiet, stirring nervously in anticipation of the bride's entrance. Suddenly drums are heard in the distance. Three male drummers, clad in African dress, appear, pounding furiously, followed by four female dancers clothed in brightly colored African robes and sandals and moving energetically to the beat.

They herald the arrival of the bride, who strides majestically down the aisle. She's wearing a white silk dress.

At the altar, each member of the bridal party tastes the kola nut halves dipped in honey, a ritual symbolizing marriage's inevitable bitter and sweet times.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The couple exchange vows, kiss, then jump over a broom decorated with purple netting and white flowers. The drummers and dancers return and rouse the wedding party and audience to dance spontaneously in celebration.

There's nothing like this in Bride's magazine.

But this ceremony -- where Western and centuries-old African traditions form a dramatic wedding-day tapestry -- was exactly what Lori Fowlkes and Oracius "Butch" Brunson Jr. wanted for their mid-June nuptials at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis.

As a college foreign exchange student, Lori Fowlkes Brunson attended a Greek Orthodox wedding in Greece that convinced her that the traditional Western wedding was not for her. All of the uniquely Greek things -- including dances and food -- made her want to explore her own heritage more.

"I began to think about something I was missing out on," said Mrs. Brunson, development director for radio station WEAA-FM. "I began to wonder about my own African culture. That's when the wheels started turning."

Honoring the ancestors

An increasing number of black couples are having weddings that use African fashion, symbols and music.

Harriet Cole, a Baltimore native and author of the hot-selling book "Jumping the Broom," an African-American wedding-planning guide published earlier this year, balks at calling Afrocentric weddings a trend. Instead, she sees it as a great cultural awakening that began in the '60s, then faded and is being revived.

Such weddings, she said "invoke the memories of the ancestors . . . each generation has worked so hard to get us where we are."

But, she adds: "There's more freedom now. Couples don't feel that if they do something African, people will look at them funny."

The setting, style and clothing for such ceremonies vary widely. They range from small, symbolic touches -- such as having the groomsmen's vests made from kente cloth -- to full-blown African ceremonies where the couple wears traditional African wedding

attire, performs rituals such as the kola-nut tasting, or feasts at the reception on foods from predominantly black cultures, such as Caribbean black cake.

Couples who choose such weddings typically are college-educated professionals in their late 20s to early 40s.

Many write their own ceremonies and vows; schedule an eclectic mix of music that may include authentic African drummers, spirituals and popular rhythm-and-blues artists; and engage in the "pouring of libations" -- the pouring of a liquid, usually wine, into the ground or a cup in honor of one's ancestors.

A desire to express the deep spirituality and the importance of family that punctuate most African societies is among the reasons some couples tailor their ceremonies with these rituals.

Of particular interest to Adrienne and Willard Perkins Jr. of Baltimore was the role of ancestors in African ceremonies.

The couple -- owners of an art marketing business -- studied African history in college and have a great interest in things from the continent. They borrowed traditions from Senegal, Nigeria and Tanzania for their May 30 nuptials at the Forum in Northwest Baltimore.

During the ceremony, the minister asked the commitment of both families to come together as one and to be positive forces in the marriage. Family elders also were asked to stand and acknowledge that they accepted the marriage.

In a ceremony the couple scripted, her mother "charged" the groom with taking care of Adrienne and his father did likewise to Adrienne.

Culturally aware

When two friends who had visited different parts of Africa told Saundra Pretlow-Petersen about the African tradition of parading visitor around on a bier, she decided she had to include that in her wedding.

She arrived at the altar on a white-chiffon-covered bier, carried aloft Egyptian style by her three brothers and a male family friend. Her dress was Egyptian-inspired, too, with a gold collar over a short-cropped white top and a low-wrapped, midriff-revealing white skirt.

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